Temple Etiquette in Thailand

Wat Ban Den Temple

What is appropriate temple etiquette? How to behave in temples? And what not to do.

First of all, it is horrifying thinking of tourists climbing up on Buddha statues, sitting in their lap, holding The Buddha’s hand and so on. Just imagine the scene having a bunch of Asian tourists climbing a cross with Jesus and posing with the son of God. Fortunately, it is pretty rare to see these scenes in Thailand now. Instructions are often quite evident in the temples of what you can do or not. Furthermore, just common sense will take you a long way.

Wat Chiang Man is an old temple in old city of Chiang Mai
Wat Chiang Man Chiang Mai

11 advice for proper Temple Etiquette in Thailand

  • Dresscode, a minimum requirement is to cover up shoulders. Preferably wear something with a short sleeve. Always wear knee-long skirt och shorts. Dress conservatively. Some places like Wat Phra Kaew /Grand Palace in Bangkok, as well as Bang Pa-In/Ayutthaya, have a much stricter dress code. Make sure to read up on these rules beforehand.
  • Take off your shoes before you enter the temple. The same goes for any headwear.
  • Don’t stand on the threshold.
  • Don’t touch sacred and holy objects unless you participate in a religious ceremony yourself.
  • When you take pictures, don’t disturb the people worshipping.
  • If Thai people pose or take pictures with the Buddha, they usually sit or place themselves lower than the Buddha and sit appropriately.
  • Monks should not touch women. As a woman, keep some distance. I remember a friend on a bus in Bangkok that wasn’t aware that she was standing in the way that made her back touch a monk, and Thai people carefully tried to inform her what was going on. Asking for a selfie with a monk and putting a hand on the shoulder isn’t a perfect move. However, I have had monks coming up to female clients in my group to shake hands with them. Any initiative should come from their side, though.
  • Regarding taking pictures of monks. Touchy, but if you do it. Make sure it is approved. At certain public ceremonies, it becomes less of a private matter. You can generally sense if it is ok or not, banking on the situation.
  • And of course, when you sit down in the Viharn, don’t point your feet towards the Buddha.
  • Only enter buildings that clearly states that it is allowed. Some areas might be out of bounds for women.
  • Don’t be intimate; kissing and such is already very rare in public, so in the temples, that is an absolute no do!

The basic rule is to follow the instructions you see in any temple. They might differ a bit from one holy place to another. Some temples might not allow photo taking inside, or not directed towards the Buddha.

Moderateness and consideration take you a long way, and that is the way to start. Your clothing will sometimes be checked at the temple gates.

In Wat Doi Kham you find this standing Buddha in a teaching position.
Standing Buddha in teaching position in Wat Doi Kham outside Chiang Mai

At the airport, signboards announce that one should respect Buddhism as it is the religion that more than 90% of the population. So avoid Buddha t-shirts or Buddha tattoos.

There is even a law banning commercial trade with Buddha statues. The law is not strictly enforced. But Thai people don’t buy Buddhas for decorations; it is not a cute statue to put in the toilet. They are placed in rooms or worship positions in houses at an elevated position.

Spirit houses

Our spirit house is at home with food for the guardian for luck and blessings of 2022. The spirit is presumed to be eating while the incense burns. That is somewhat the telephone signal to the god. The spirit eats a part of the food that isn’t materialised, and the rest we can consume later—a practical, non-waste approach.

Spirit houses are part of old worship that is more closely related to animism than Theravada Buddhism, but it is syncretism and blended into the religious traditions. There are ghosts, angels, and guardians of the land that people have to respect to be protected and live peacefully in their houses.

Temple and religious etiquette are crucial factors in getting along with Thai people since religious traditions are still a significant part of daily life and society.

To understand Thailands contemporary life and traditions, I recommend visiting temples since it is essential for anyone who travels to Thailand.

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